Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The First Year Five-Step Grade Acceptance Plan

And….we’re back. That was a short break—at least for those of us with kids following a school vacation calendar. And now the grades for our first year students will be coming out (at least here) on Friday at 5:00 p.m. Yes, the grades will be released to the students and then there will be a three day weekend for them to absorb this information or perhaps organize their flaming torch posses.  In truth, I think this “buffer” period is a good idea because it will give students (those who are unhappy with their grades) some time to go through the stages of grief involved in law school grades.

The first stage is “anger.”  Students look at a (less than they expected) grade and are immediately angry at the professor who gave it to them. Perhaps some choice expletives about this professor cross their minds and lips at this point. The student is certain that the grade is personal despite all indications that grading is done blindly by exam number. Some students never pass through this stage and, in my experience, it does not bode well for their future academic careers if they don’t.  A student who is stuck in this stage will not really be able to modify their strategy for the next set of exams.

The second stage is “confused hopefulness.” This is a stage that not all students go through, but quite a few do take a side trip here on their way to stage three. “Confused hopefulness” is when the student thinks that perhaps there was a mathematical error or even that the computer software failed to spit out the entire exam answer. In essence, the student believes that the grade is the result of some "tragic mistake."  This passes quickly, but if it doesn’t, the students will try to track down the professor and discuss the exam-which, all in all, is never a bad thing.

The third stage is bargaining. Students try to tell themselves (and anyone who will listen) all the reasons why the grade could have happened. Notice that I used the passive voice here--that was intentional. “I had a cold/migraine/anxiety attack.” “It was the first exam.” “The professor hates me,” (this is often a relapse back into stage one). “Someone in the room kept blowing their nose/coughing/tapping on the desk.”  Not one of the reasons will involve anything the student did, or did not do, to prepare for exams.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why an exam has gone awry. I don’t know why law students’ significant others choose exam time to do it, but an awful lot of students get dumped at this time of year. Sort of the double whammy, dumped during exams and right before the holidays. Isn’t the relationship going to be just as bad after exams? It isn’t like you’re going to see the student much during this time, so what’s the rush?  As an Academic Support professional, I would personally like to throttle people who decide to sabotage someone else's grades in this way (and here I am back in stage one...).

The fourth stage is “regrets.” (I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…). Student regrets about study methods and classroom preparation start to form now. “Why did I study with those people I’ve never seen in class?” “Why didn’t I make my own outline or at least brief cases past September?” Or, my own favorite, “why didn’t I go to those Academic Support classes?  I bet they were wicked helpful.” (We are in Massachusetts after all….) I think the sooner a student gets to this point, the better. Owning responsibility for their grades, to me, is the best indicator that a student will not be in academic distress much longer. 

 The fifth (and final) stage is “looking forward”: This is when the student decides to get better grades at the end of the year. This is when they do the math and figure out what grade they need on the final to bring their midterm grade up to what is an acceptable level for them; and better yet, start to plan how to achieve that goal. This is when a student asks for help, and here I am waiting for them on Tuesday morning with a full candy jar and a box of tissues. (ezs)

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